Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Manon, Zenaida Yanowsky & Roberto Bolle, Royal Opera House, 1 Nov 2014

1 November 2014 was truly a night to remember at the Royal Opera House. Ballets like this don't come around very often, and the cheering, stamping, standing audience at the end of the night knew it well. It was a night so amazing that it feels almost vulgar to pin it down to words and dare write about it, yet it must be preserved for posterity somehow.

Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle gave a performance that was beyond description. They wove a love between Manon and Des Grieux that was so earnest, intricate and captivating, keeping the audience breathless for every second they were on stage together. From the moment they locked eyes in Scene 1, they fell convincingly deeper and deeper in love with every step they took together. Where there might have been doubt about Wednesday's love, here their repeated stolen glances, nervous joy when finally they met, and triumphantly exuberant first pas de deux, all made their passion abundantly clear.

In fact not only were Manon and Des Grieux falling in love, but so it seemed Yanowksy and Bolle were as well. One could see their thrill exuding with every perfectly spun pirouette, and their confidence growing with every breathtaking lift and throw. They upped the ante with each verse of the music, giving more of themselves to each other. As Yanowsky leans into him more daringly at the end of each arabesque, or pushes more fervently off his hand for a spin, Bolle meets her touch eagerly, powerfully launching her off again then catching her with an ever dependable stability. As much as they are in perfect physical synchronization, accelerating and decelerating together through the nuances of the Massanet score, so are they emotionally, gasping and almost laughing as they play with each other, casting gazes that look longingly as if into each other's souls.

Such magic can only be created by two principals clearly at their prime. Sure enough in their impeccable technique years ago, every extra moment on stage has evidently gone towards building a formidable library of expression that they both wield profoundly. For Yanowsky, I know her prowess well, yet she gave a performance this night that was more real and textured than I've ever seen. Markedly more confident at the start than she was on Wednesday, she fires out of that carriage with a gust of innocent enthusiasm, that's nestled in many subtle glances of familiar joy with her brother or gentle eye rolling at his machinations. Then towards Des Grieux's love through the night, her world visibly stops the first time she sees him; she reverses the partnering in the bedroom pas de deux with such playful invitation; her body softens as she gives in to his anguished solo in Act 2. What was a rare and special treat as well was to see how differently she handled subtleties in this performance versus the last, showing how she is not only inventive but responsive as a dance actor.

For Bolle, my first viewing of him on stage was treated to a remarkably sensitive theatricality. He is less bold in his expressions than Yanowsky but that is by no means ineffective here. He is a shy and beguilingly earnest Des Grieux, whose gentle pirouette into a kneel at the end of his Act 1 solo was so endearing that I perhaps fell deeper in love with him than Manon did. And I was astounded by the way he handled his righteous morality in Act 2, where he perfectly balances his incredulousness at Manon's susceptibility to materiality, his desperate desire to have her see the light, and his anguished sorrow for failing to treat her with anything but tender care. Thus in their combined maturity and thoughtfulness, that interacted so as to be more than the sum of its parts, the audience had no choice but to fall into their world, and both cherish then suffer together in their torturous emotional journey.

The rest of the stellar cast seals the deal. Laura Morera turns what could have easily been a token foil into a character with deep complexity, and it's a shame that much of this is seen best at the fringes of the stage. She is resilient despite Lescaut's callous treatment, and dedicated in her cautioning Manon against her dangerous materialistic descent. Carlos Acosta is delightful again as Lescaut, perhaps even more on point with the comedic timing, and more calculating in his dealings with Monsieur GM than the last night. And to his credit, Will Tuckett is downright repulsive as GM. One somewhat bone-chilling moment is when in the Act 2 pas de trois, Manon's skirt falls accidentally over his face. Once he finds his way out of it, he has an unexpectedly frightening look of satisfaction. Finally, Gary Avis is perhaps more ruthless as Gaoler, and paired with Yanowsky's all too realistic acting, I believe my heart actually stopped beating then. The energy was as infectious to the audience as to the entire cast, with every slight display of dancing or acting rich and provocative. I lament with other viewers that there was simply too much to see in this ballet!

As the evening wends its way to the final swamp pas de deux, the magic is unassailable. Here Yanowsky and Bolle cap the performance of a lifetime, hurtling themselves at each other in yet another profound showing of technical and emotional excellence. She limps about the stage then sets her eyes on him, is renewed with vitality, and runs full tilt for the clean perfection of one, two, three spins, to be brought lovingly back down by him. He pushes her head up carefully with his shoulder, then finds her dead with a pang of shock that reverberates through the auditorium, and he clutches her visibly mouthing "Manon, Manon."

It's back to Singapore for me, but this time I left my heart in Covent Garden.


  1. I was there too - I still haven't caught my breath. I dare not play any music, Manon is still going round and round in my head, and with the music I see the pictures too and I dont want to let go of them yet :)) A compulsive Roberto Bolle fan I was delighted at the casting when I first got sight of it, and knew that Roberto and Zen would create magic - I expected it, but was left with my mouth wide open from the first stolen glances, and that declaration of love, right through to the desperation and loss at the end. Roberto is fearless, elegant beyond elegance, a partner of consumate skill, and the two of them together created Magic, it was without doubt a virtuoso performance from both Zen and Roberto - each taking from and giving to each other to create something extraordinary.
    Thanks so much for your review - you saw it through the same but different eyes I can tell :)
    Now all we need is for The Royal Ballet to give these two finest of dancers opportunities to dance together, especially as Julie Kent is retiring - how wonderful if the extraordinary partnership these two dancers created last Saturday can be given more chances to thrill us all.

    1. "you saw it through the same but different eyes I can tell"

      Oh absolutely!! I loved your own review and it's clear this evening left the whole audience with some very special memories.. a magic that wafted through the theater and still extends through time. It's been a month since then (I'm so sorry I only just saw your comment!) but the emotions are still there. To much more of this partnership indeed!! Such a shame it is so rare, but better late than never!